Can I Sue a Tow Truck Company?
When a tow truck company damages your vehicle or the property inside it, you may be able to sue for the damage they caused. A growing awareness of predatory towing practices has led to changes in many state laws. This means that towing companies can face legal liability for any of the following:
- illegal or predatory tows
- causing damage to the vehicle itself or its contents
- unlawful billing
However, the law often still protects towing companies in ways that make for an unpleasant surprise for many drivers. If you believe you have a case, get started by requesting a free case evaluation from our legal team
Types of Lawsuits Made Against Tow Truck Companies
Each state, as well as many cities and counties, has laws and regulations on the books that determine the rights consumers have when dealing with damage caused by towing companies. Although these laws vary widely, common types of lawsuits can include the following:
1. Illegal Tows
In general, towing companies cannot drive around the streets looking for illegally or improperly parked vehicles to tow. The few exceptions to this, such as towing vehicles that block fire hydrants or fire lanes, are typically authorized by law. For the most part, however, tow trucks can only remove vehicles with prior authorization, either from local law enforcement or from property owners, depending on the circumstance.
Even when towing companies do come prepared with the approval of a property owner to remove unauthorized vehicles, they cannot engage in deceptive practices. For example, if unauthorized vehicles on private property will be subject to tow, Missouri law requires that signage be displayed “in plain view at all entrances to the property.” These notices must also state that unauthorized vehicles will be removed at the owner’s expense, as well as disclose the maximum fee for towing charges and contact information for the company or agency that will have the vehicle.
2. Unlawful Business Practices
Tow lots cannot charge storage fees for the days that they are closed. Many states also require that towing companies remain open and staffed during normal business hours during the week, with rates and fees clearly posted.
In other words, tow truck companies cannot keep their storage lots open for a few inconvenient hours a day in the hopes of racking up storage fees. They also cannot lie about their fees.
If a towing company damages your vehicle because they failed to take ordinary care—for example, failing to secure a vehicle on the towing bed—you may have a negligence claim for the property damage that they caused.
4. Breach of Bailment
A “bailment” is created when one person transfers their personal property to another person for safekeeping without also transferring ownership. This means that the towing companies have a duty to keep your vehicle and any personal property within it safe from further harm. For instance, a towing company that allows personal property to be stolen from vehicles because the company did not take basic security precautions may have to defend their failure in court.
However, just because a tow lot must protect your personal property does not mean they must return it to you. Some states allow tow lots to hold on to the personal property from your vehicle until arrangements have been made for payment of storage fees, while other states require that the tow lots turn the property over to the owner.
Missouri tow lots must:
- Return prescription medication
- Allow you to inspect the vehicle and provide you with an itemized receipt for the contents
- Safely return personal property in the condition it arrived
Illinois tow lots must return:
- Car seats
- Perishable property
- Operator’s licenses
- Cash, credit cards, checks, or checkbooks
- A wallet, purse, or anything else containing any operator’s license or other identifying documents or materials, as well as cash, credit cards, checks, or checkbooks
- Any personal possessions belonging to a person other than the vehicle owner if that property owner is able to provide adequate proof of ownership
Occasionally, tow truck companies will refuse to return a vehicle to its lawful owner even after the owner has tendered payment. This act—taking the personal property of another with the intent to deprive them of it—is called conversion. It is an intentional tort that can be filed in court.
Additional Legal Considerations for Suing Tow Truck Companies
Dealing with your towed vehicle can be exasperating at the best of times. This means that the difference between the ordinary hassle of having your car towed and illegal behavior on behalf of the tow lot is not always easy to parse. If you’re considering a lawsuit, here are some things you should know:
1. Your car, your responsibility – Ideally, the insurance company for the responsible driver will pay for the tow and storage fees. However, the tow yard itself isn’t going to arbitrate fault between two drivers and their insurance companies. If an insurance company doesn’t step in and cover the costs, the tow truck company will bill the owner of the vehicle on their lot.
2. Duty to mitigate – Even when the insurance carrier accepts responsibility for the tow, they can refuse to pay for the whole storage tab if it has been more than several days. If the tab gets too high, the insurance company may argue that the client should have gotten the car out of there sooner.
3. Collision insurance – Collision insurance usually covers the costs of towing and storage (minus the deductible), regardless of fault.
- Towing and storage fees aren’t used to determine whether the vehicle should be declared a total loss.
- Ask your insurance carrier which tow company to call, or ask your adjuster to make the call for them.
- If your vehicle will be repaired, get it out of storage and into a repair shop as quickly as possible (see “duty to mitigate” above).
If you lack collision insurance, take the initiative to get the vehicle out of storage as quickly as possible to minimize costs while you work with the other driver’s insurance company. Be sure to keep any receipts from the tow lot to show what you had to pay to get your wheels out of storage. Remember that walking onto the tow lot and just driving away in your car without paying fees is a crime.
When suing a tow truck company, you may be eligible to recover the following types of compensation:
- Compensatory damages – Compensatory damages are also referred to as “actual damages.” It refers to the objective dollar amount needed to compensate a plaintiff for the monetary value of what they lost or what damages were incurred because of the defendant’s actions.
- Punitive damages – Punitive damages are different from other damages in that they are not considered compensatory. This means they are not awarded to pay a victim back. Instead, they are awarded as a means to punish and deter the defendant’s bad behavior. Not every state allows punitive damages, but those that do usually require that the plaintiff prove that the defendant’s behavior was deliberate or flagrant.
Depending on your case, the damages you may be able to recover will likely vary. A personal injury lawyer can help you pursue compensation for damages.
Get help with your tow truck case
If you or a loved one has been injured in a tow truck accident, request a free case evaluation from a personal injury lawyer at Brown & Crouppen Law Firm for a free case evaluation. We’ve helped recover millions for our clients as a result of truck accident settlements and verdicts.
A personal injury attorney will be able to help determine if you have a case. They can also aid you in building a strong claim and ultimately assist you in recovering compensation for any damages that resulted from the accident.